Her story started out shocking enough: A 3-year-old with type 2 diabetes, thought to be one of the youngest people to have the disease. But the now 5-year-old girl, whose name has not been released to the public, is no longer showing any symptoms — giving hope to millions of other children and adults who suffer from the chronic condition.
Two years ago, the toddler was taken to the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston to address her severe obesity. She weighed 77 pounds, putting her in the highest 5 percent weight and BMI of all kids her age. She was also experiencing excessive urination and thirst, which are common diabetes symptoms. Her parents were also obese, but had no history of diabetes.
Tests revealed the toddler had high fasting blood sugar levels, but she tested negative for type 1 diabetes, a commonly diagnosed condition in children, according to the American Diabetes Association.
"Based on symptoms, physical findings of obesity and laboratory results, the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes was made," said Michael Yafi, MD, who presented the toddler's case study at the September 2015 annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes in Stockholm.
It's no secret that diabetes is on the rise. Once known as adult-onset diabetes, type 2 is now being diagnosed more often in children as young as 10 due to obesity and inactivity, according to the National Diabetes Education Program.
The little girl's parents admitted to feeding their daughter mostly fast food, candy and sugary drinks, and rarely engaging in physical activity. So although part of the toddler's treatment was a daily dose of the diabetes drug metformin, it didn't stop there: Her doctors also did a complete overhaul of her diet and educated the family about necessary lifestyle modifications, including increasing the little girl's time spent playing outdoors.
After just six months of this treatment plan, the toddler lost 25 percent of her body weight and had normal blood sugar levels. No longer displaying any symptoms of type 2 diabetes, she was taken off the metformin and her condition is now considered reversed.
"Reversal of type 2 diabetes in children is possible by early screening of obese children, early diagnosis, appropriate therapy and lifestyle modification," Dr. Yafi said.
Almost half of the entire American population has diabetes or prediabetes, according to a recent JAMA study, but this little girl's story suggests those numbers could go down.
"A reversal of type 2 diabetes may or may not be permanent, but it is still a worthy pursuit for both kids and adults," says Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, author of Diabetes Weight Loss: Week by Week. "Type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease, so we see that the earlier someone grabs control of their blood sugar levels and lifestyle habits, the better the short term and long term outcomes."
It's never too late to start making improvements, she adds. "But the time to act is now because the window of opportunity closes a tiny bit everyday."